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July 4, 2018, 5:29 a.m.

Tell me more: The Globe and Mail is slipping a little extra context into its stories (while explaining its editorial thinking along the way)

“As a news organization, it’s perhaps an opportunity for us to be helping people fill those gaps without forcing them to go to Wikipedia or start Googling things, just to try to get the background they crave on a story.”

The Canadian national daily The Globe and Mail is testing a new feature that could enhance readers’ understanding of its online stories — and of the mechanics of its journalism.

Susan Krashinsky Robertson, normally a marketing and media reporter at the Globe, has taken a three-month leave from her reporting duties to test expandable, in-article explainers called Globe Primers. Krashinsky Robertson said this feature aims to work as both an explainer tool and a transparency tool.

“The idea behind this project is really not dumbing down the news, but the idea is that no matter how intelligent a reader is, no matter how engaged with the news they are, we all have gaps in our knowledge,” Krashinsky Robertson said.

Krashinsky Robertson’s feature is being tested through the paper’s innovation unit, Lab 351. (The paper is headquartered at 351 King Street East in Toronto.) The lab, which Nieman Lab wrote about in March, allows anyone at the Globe to pitch ideas to the executive team and apply for three months away from regular duties to work on their idea. After the testing period, the lab looks at the data collected and decides whether or not the idea should move forward, or if features need to be added.

An example of a Globe Primer in action, in this case on a trade-war story.

The goal of the Globe Primer is to provide readers with more context on a certain topic within a story — or on a journalistic decision made by the paper — without them having to leave the article to find the answer. Krashinsky Robertson said the Primers can range from the Globe’s policy on anonymous sources to an explanation on why Canada is joining the peacekeeping mission in Mali.

“As a news organization, it’s perhaps an opportunity for us to be helping people fill those gaps without forcing them to go to Wikipedia or start Googling things, just to try to get the background they crave on a story and maybe fall down that internet rabbit hole we’ve all experienced a million times before,” she said.

Krashinsky Robertson said this is a time when readers are asking more questions about the reliability of information than ever before. She hopes this tool can improve the relationship between audiences and journalists in a way that people feel they can use the Globe as a resource for the context they need. But she recognizes that many readers will look beyond just one source to find an answer.

“I would never imagine that the Globe Primer would become the be-all and end-all for someone who wants to learn more about an issue. I know a lot of smart readers will go to a number of different sources…to try and get a consensus, and what I’m hoping is that we can be a part of that journey,” Krashinsky Robertson said.

The transparency aspect of the feature sheds light on newsroom conversations happening at the Globe around reporting standards and guidelines. Krashinsky Robertson said the Globe’s public editor Sylvia Stead offers a look into these standards all the time, but the Primers are another opportunity to add more context.

“From there, they can make their own choices, and hopefully informed choices, about whether or not to trust us,” she said.

The project draws on the experiences of other Globe reporters to determine what could use extra clarity. Krashinsky Robertson sent a call-out email to the paper’s journalists asking what topics on their beat they find themselves needing to explain repeatedly — or just wish they had more space to explain fully.

The video unit at the Globe has also extended the Globe Primer beyond a one-person team by incorporating some of the Primers into videos. Since the Primers are designed to be short, Krashinsky Robertson said they work pretty well as video scripts. (Here’s one that features Krashinsky Robertson explaining tariffs.)

The final Globe Primer design isn’t set yet. True to the project’s lab home, the Globe is currently testing two different designs in order to determine which one users respond best to.

Primers don’t appear in every piece, but Krashinsky Robertson has placed a Primer on more than 250 stories so far. (You can identify them via this Google News search.) Currently, expanded Primers overlap the text of the article it’s in. If they do eventually become a permanent feature, Krashinsky Robertson said the team may look at cleaning that up visually — perhaps pushing article text down the page when a Primer is opened, or adding a drop shadow over the underlying text. The testing is scheduled to continue through mid-July.

Spencer Turcotte is a reporter/researcher at the Canadian media site J-Source, where a version of this piece originally appeared.

Photo of what was until 2016 the Globe and Mail’s building — at 444 Front Street West — by Can Pac Swire used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     July 4, 2018, 5:29 a.m.
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